Lost in translation
Late last night the Tories were taken aback by the language used by the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche.
His words were scathing and undiplomatic in tone. He told The Guardian the Conservatives had "castrated" their influence in Europe. As regards the negotiating style of William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, he said: "They have one line and they just repeat the line. It is a very bizarre sense of autism". He denounced David Cameron's plans to bring back some powers from Brussels to Britain as "pathetic".
But by this afternoon the French minister had a different take on all this. "Pathetic" in French means "sad", he told the BBC. "I meant I was saddened, we are saddened in France to see the debate going in more and more euro-sceptical, euro-hostile tones".
He said he didn't realise that the word "autistic" was so offensive in English and withdrew the remark. Apparently the word is commonly used in France and translates very badly into English.
So in the end the message was lost in translation. Earlier another French minister had opined that it would be very difficult working with the Conservatives. On the evidence of the past 24 hours that is self-evidently true.